In Conversation with KSO’s Music Director, Kristian Alexander on the 2013-14 Season

KSO News asked: When planning this season was there a unifying idea that you wanted to explore with the orchestra and audience through your programming choices?

 2012 KSO GalaKristian Alexander: Focusing a concert season (or, more often, a single concert) around a unifying idea has been around for a while.  It dates back as far as the Middle Ages when ecclesiastical composers were looking for unity by writing music for specific occasions (Sunday mass or celebrations) in a single mode. This trend took more recognizable, modern shape in 1985 when Claudio Abado introduced a themed subscription series at the London Symphony Orchestra’s festival “Mahler, Vienna and the 20th century”. The model proved to be successful and affected all arts causing a radical change in the way concerts and concert seasons have been programmed ever since.

But why do exploring unifying ideas works? It is probably because it satisfies human’s natural curiosity to discover and explore connections within preset parameters and structure… Or because of our desire to look for completeness, so we feel more satisfied when we can hear all piano concerti by Beethoven as opposed just one of them… Thematic programming works well and often brings more patrons to the box office just because people feel encouraged to come to another concert that is already part of a the same “series”.

Similarly, the Kindred Spirits Orchestra first two seasons were largely dedicated to Beethoven’s oeuvre – we played all of his symphonies (except the 9th) and most of his overtures. Although the main reason for the programming was aligned with the needs of the newly created orchestra (playing Beethoven’s symphonies is a great school for every new formation), it was an obvious feast for the audience as well.

Having passed the “didactic” stage in the development of the orchestra, I have adopted, a few years ago, a different route in my programming, one that explores less obvious connections between the pieces and also stimulates the curiosity of the audience. For example, instead of programming an “all Mozart” concert, I would rather offer Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suite No. 4 , then an instrumental concerto by Mozart and then Bruckner’s Requiem in D. Both the orchestral suite and the Requiem explore themes by Mozart (which is the thematic and stylistically unifying element in the programming) but the connection, rather than immediately obvious, becomes “discovered” as the concert unfolds, real time, before the audience. This way, the end result becomes more stimulating for the listeners who was led towards a sort of “eureka” moment by actively engaging them in the process of discovering the connection. Such programming strategy can be as successful bringing audiences back to the the concert hall as the one that would offer them a series with all symphonies by Brahms or Schumann.

Further developing this model, I began programming mainstream compositions together with lesser known but equally beautiful pieces and connecting them through a single unifying idea that is still not so immediately obvious. For example, there are several pieces writtenin memoriam of other composers, people or ideas. One of them, Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, was written in memoriam François Couperin, and can be performed instead of the traditional orchestral “overture”. To feature a soloist in the same concert, I would program Alban Berg’s Violin concerto, written “to the memory of an angel”, and then end the concert with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 which, in Beethoven’s own inscription is a “heroic symphony composed to the memory of a great man”. This way, we have a very well known composition (no, unfortunately it is not Berg’s Violin concerto) that is programmed together with a less known contemporary composition (which fulfils my goal to educate the audience and promote modern music) and draws a nice arch with the French romantic composition while having the overall theme in memoriam connecting all three of them together. And if I am in more adventurous mood, I could substitute Le tombeau with Stravinsky’s Symphony for wind instruments written in memoriam Claude Debussy or with Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten.

Now that we are in the Kindred Spirits Orchestra’s 5th season, I have recently completed the concert programs for the next 5 years. One of my goals is by the end of 2019 to have performed with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra all major symphonic works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Weber, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Mozart while keeping the audience engaged by offering some well known pieces by French composers (Dukas, Fauré, Bizet, perhaps Ravel and Debussy) and Russian “classics” (by Mussorgsky, Glinka, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich). And of course, continue stimulating the audience curiosity with slipping hidden gems of the 20th century here and there.

Balancing a concert season is a complex process that requires a lot of research and takes a lot of time.  The pieces that are programmed have to be accessible for the level of the orchestra but also enriching and stimulating for the musicians while remaining attractive for the new audience and  educational for the core audience, as well as versatile in genre and style and representative of various ethnical and linguistic backgrounds.
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A Night at the KSO: a distinctive experience

At the KSO, we know your time is precious.  When you elect to spend a night out, you want your experience to be relaxing, enjoyable . . . and also have some wonderful memories and new insights to take home with you.   Here’s what to expect when you attend a KSO concert:

The Venue: Flato Markham Centre for the Performing Arts, just off Highway 7, the theatre is easy to access from anywhere in the GTA.  Not only is it easy to drive to, but unlike Toronto downtown locations there is ample convenient FREE parking.  How many times have you started your evening with a frantic quest for parking, a surprisingly high parking fee, and a mad rush to the theatre because it all took so long?  Aren’t you glad to be able to access great entertainment right here in Markham, and not have to worry about that hassle?  Instead, park quickly, conveniently and walk right into the beautiful lobby of the Markham Centre for the Performing Arts.

The Flato Markham Theatre glows invitingly.

The Flato Markham Theatre glows invitingly.

Pre-Concert Chat: Arriving early at the KSO presents you with attractive options.  Ample seating and friendly people provide social opportunities to chat with old friends or meet new.  For those who wish to enhance their listening experience the orchestra provides a pre-concert chat led by speakers chosen to give the audience different perspectives at each concert.

The Concert: Friendly ushers will help you find your seats in the intimate and comfortable concert hall.  KSO concerts are hosted by the lovely classical music radio host, Alexa Petrenko, who provides brief informative introductions to the works that are appreciated by concert newcomers and audience members with deep knowledge of the music alike.  The semi-professional orchestra is composed of a mixture of area music professionals, music teachers, advanced students and highly competent Markham area amateur musicians.  Samples of the orchestra’s concerts are available on our YouTube Channel.

Intermission: At intermission audience members can choose to socialize, enjoy a drink from the bar, and/or participate in a lively Q & A session with a guest artist.  Pictured here is last month’s guest artist Maxim Bernard who answered questions about his relatively late start at the piano (age 13), his training and practice schedule.

interesting image

Pianist Maxim Bernard in animated conversation with Alexa Petrenko

Post concert: After the concert, don’t rush out to your car.  Stay with us and enjoy the glow that the enjoyment of great music provides.  Toast the evening with a glass of complimentary champagne and share your impressions of the music.   A live jazz ensemble adds a final touch.  A great wrap up to a wonderful evening.

Complimentary glasses of champagne await the KSO audience following the concert.

Complimentary glasses of champagne await the KSO audience following the concert.

Sound appealing?  Then we hope to see you soon!

jazz ensemble at KSO

Capping off the evening with a complimentary glass of champagne and some mellow jazz

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Meet the members of KSO’s String Mentorship Program

Eric Sun and Edward Cui perform with the KSO during the 2012/13 Gala Opening Concert

Eric Sun and Edward Cui perform with the KSO during the 2012/13 Gala Opening Concert

This year, 11 promising young musicians were given a wonderful opportunity to meet new musical challenges. In this article, we’ll learn about their thoughts on their own string studies, their approach to practice, future plans and advice to beginning students . . . and their parents!

The KSO Youth Strings mentoring program’s goal is to develop the technical and artistic skills of young musicians, and give them the opportunity to play side-by-side with professional musicians during weekly rehearsals, as well as during concerts.  The Kindred Spirits Orchestra accepts young string musicians who are 18 years old or younger on an ongoing basis.

Now let’s hear from some of the most enthusiastic young strings students in the GTA!


KSO News: At what age did you first begin to play your instrument and what drew you to the violin?
Edward Cui:  I started to play the violin at the age of 8.  My parents first suggested this opportunity and I saw improvement, so I continued to play the violin.

KN:  You mention your parents first chose the violin for you.  Do you come from a musical family?
EC: I do not come from a family with musical background. None of my close relatives have played any instruments. However, I began to be interested in playing the violin after I had seen and heard  a few of my older friends play. I knew of many of my peers who played the piano, but the violin seemed unique to me because I didn’t know of many who played it at that time.

KN: Is there a professional career in your future?
EC: I am still not sure specifically what I might do with my musical talents in the future. Although I may not take a musical career path, I hope to make my skills useful in different ways. Perhaps I may use these skills to serve in worship at my church.

I think that I may use my skills to make some money later on by teaching a few students, but I don’t think that this will be for long term however. This could be a way for me to have work experience when I’m still in school.  I am still not quite clear with my musical future. Music could potentially be a great source of relaxation and enjoyment later on even though this may not be my career.

KN: How did you hear about the String Mentorship Program at KSO?
EC:   There were auditions to get in the program last year so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to experience how it is to perform with skilled musicians and to make the skills I have learned useful by taking part.

KN: How has the program helped you develop as a musician?
EC:  Something that I have learned through playing in the orchestra is that everyone plays an important role in the overall performance effect. Everyone must perform well in order for the music to sound good. This has been something to hold me accountable to my practice.

KN:  What is your approach to practice?
EC: Practicing an instrument is definitely challenging. There are lots of times when I want to avoid practicing because of the hard work and time I would have to put in. On the other hand, there are also days when I really enjoy the music I am making. When I don’t feel like practicing, I often think to myself that every bit of effort I put in will pay off in various ways later on. Something that keeps me working is the fact that my technique could drop if I do not keep pushing.

KN: What advice would you give to a beginning strings student?
EC: Something that I think is crucial to successfully mastering an instrument is to enjoy the music you are making. This is a huge intrinsic motivation even when things get tough.

KN:  What would be your advice to parents?
EC: I would advise the parent that it is very important that the student must be interested themselves in the instrument, rather than being forced to do something they would not want to invest time and effort into.

Elson Leung

Elson Leung


KN: Hi Nelson, we are doing a piece on the Strings Mentorship program and wondered if you could tell us how you got started playing the violin?
EL: I started violin at the age of 14 (grade 9). This was when I was studying music in high school; there are so many amazing pieces for the violin and just hoped to play them one day.

KN:  Is your family musical?
EL:  I wouldn’t consider myself  as coming from a musical family, however  my mother knows how to play the piano. I actually played piano when I was younger but soon gave up after my RCM grade 8.

KN: What are your musical goals?
EL: My personal goal to play the big concerti, namely Shostakovich, Sibelius, Brahms, and Beethoven albeit I have a long ways to go. I make smaller goals that are achievable now  to put me on the path to my bigger goals.

KN: What amazing, ambitious goals!  It sounds as if you are planning on a professional music career.
EL:  I have not yet decided if I want to pursue music as a profession but it still is an option. Teaching is also an option but I’ve been a teaching assistant and know how frustrating teaching can be so that is undecided. Music will definitely still be an important interest. Since I am not going to major in music in university, I will still do my best to have time to put in lots of practise and improve.

KN: What is your approach to practicing?

EL:  I have some mixed feelings with practicing.  Practicing can sometimes be fun, and sometimes not fun. Different pieces/ scales/ studies give me different motivations. For instance, as much as I hate practicing technical abilities, I try to squeeze at least 2 scales a day and focus primarily on them.  Practicing on my “off” days can be tough.  I try to do at least 2 scales a day even if it just means 30 minutes. If practicing really is not working  out, I find it best to take a rest, listen to music, sometimes maybe the piece(s) I’m working on.

KN:  If a beginner were to ask your advice, what would you say?

EL: Practise slowly! Don’t rush stuff but definitely push yourself. If you know you can’t do it, slow it down! Especially when your teacher says you can’t do it yet, they’re most likely right (with some exceptions). There will be people who can do it right off the bat but you really need to know what is going on before you go faster: every movement, every note, every rhythm. Also, please listen to your teacher. A good relationship between teacher and student always helps. Work intelligently, not harder.

Remember it takes time to get something right. Have patience when you practise. Also, learning an instrument will teach many life skills you cannot acquire anywhere else. Have fun! Things can get tough. People will expect a lot from people playing an instrument well. You may often find frustration in your practising but keep yourself relaxed. Have a break once in a while. Good luck.

KN:  What about their parents?  I’m sure there are parents out there reading and thinking “I wish my kids would practice like that!”

EL: Forcing your child(ren) to play music is not the way to go and it most certainly won’t work if you keep nagging them; they just won’t learn that way. 90% of the motivation must come from the beginner. The other 10% is your responsibility to get them interested and boost their motivation. I find that when I start to lose motivation, I go listen to a concert of interest. Children tend to go listen to pop concerts which can go to prices of $100 but TSOundcheck tickets are only $14, so it’s not out of the question to listen to concerts. Also, respect the teacher’s decisions. They are usually right because they know the playing ability of the student. Learning an instrument, especially for strings, is high maintenance. Don’t hesitate to do some research on the costs of maintaining an instrument beforehand so it doesn’t come as a shock when your child asks to buy things. This isn’t to discourage you or telling you to spend a fortune, but it can get quite expensive. Lastly, the key to your child’s success in playing an instrument is to have the right equipment. I know instruments and lessons can get expensive but with a good teacher who actually cares for the student, a student who is willing to learn, and a somewhat decent instrument, the beginner will definitely succeed!


KN: Hi Yiyang, can you tell us how long you have been playing violin?

YG:    I first began to play violin when I’m 5 years old. My kindergarten organized students to learn violin, then I continued playing this instrument after kindergarten until now.

KN: How wonderful to have a strings program in a kindergarten!  Is your family musical?

YG: I’m not coming from a musical family, I first got to learn the violin in kindergarten, I thought it was kind of interesting and I like it, so I continued learning violin now.

KN: It sounds like you found a fit early.  What are your musical goals currently?

YG: My personal goal as a young musician is to find more opportunity to perform and simply to keep practicing violin in the future and improve.

KN: Have you thought about music as a profession?

YG: I don’t really aspire to a professional musician or music teaching career. Playing the violin is more of a hobby and it helps me to relax. Maybe I’ll teach some day for a part time job.      Music is an important interest to me now, and I’m pretty sure that it will continue to be an important interest in the future.

KN: How has the KSO program helped you?

YG: Kindred Spirits Strings mentoring program gives young musicians like me a chance to play with professional musicians and to improve our skills in the orchestra. It also gives us a chance to build up performance experience.  It helps me know the importance of cooperation in an orchestra. It gives me valuable experiences of performing as part of a team. It helps me to develop my skill by practicing more master pieces and getting more hearing experiences.

KN: What is your approach to practice?

YG:   I enjoy practicing with the orchestra. I know that in an orchestra,  teamwork is very important, that’s the reason I practice at home to be a good teamplayer with the orchestra.

I started to practice the violin at the age of 5. In the 9 years of practicing,  sometimes I enjoy playing this instrument but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I feel bored to keep practicing one music piece for a very long time. I got really whiny when I was practicing  But I still didn’t give up this instrument. Joining Kindred Spirits Orchestra makes me feel more interested  in violin and helps me enjoy my playing more.

KN: That is a very astute point about cooperation and teamwork!  What would you advise a beginner?

YG:    If I was speaking to a beginning strings student, I would advise them not to give up practicing their instruments. Although the practicing processes may be hard, but the results worth the hard works. When you’re playing a completed music piece, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself and feel proud of your improvement.

KN:  If a parent were to say to you, “how do I ecourage my child to play like you?” what would you say?

YG: My parents supported me to practice the violin. To encourage a beginner, you can give them some advice from an audience’s point of view. Don’t pressure them too much cause that may eliminate their interests of playing this instrument, give them some commends so they will get more interested in their instruments.

David Hou

David Hou


KN: David, how did you come to start playing violin and what are your plans for developing your talent?
DH: I started playing when I was 4, and I was just fascinated by the violin.  I did not come from a music family, but the kindergarten I went to was hosted by a famous musical academy, so I was lucky to be able to learn violin very young.  My goal is just to play and enjoy music while becoming better at it, I really don’t have the goal of a professional career, well, most  likely not. Music is still an important interest but it has nothing to do with my career.
KN:  How did you find out about the KSO Strings Mentorship program?
DH: My teacher encouraged me to audition for the program and to join KSO.  The orchestra itself plays a lot of amazing pieces, while I get to play in the orchestra, it is a good experience.
KN: What is your approach to practice?
DH: I don’t like or dislike practicing. I actually usually I only do practice when I feel like it, or when I actually can’t play the piece well.
KN:  What would you tell beginners and their parents?
DH:  Personally I think having the passion for your instrument and practicing a lot is the key to success.  There’s no magic formula.  Parents encourage kids most by taking the time to listen to them and ask about what they are playing and  to tell them when it sounds nice.  They need to demonstrate their interest.
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Kindred Spirits Orchestra: ON THE MOVE!

The KSO has moved to a new rehearsal home and we are so excited.
Our new home at the Cornell Community Centre

Our new home at the Cornell Community Centre

The orchestra started rehearsals at the Old Unionville Library Centre in 2009.  A conveniently located building that served us well as we built up our numbers and began to tackle more ambitious projects.
Our former home at the Library Centre

Our former home at the Library Centre

Our former home in the Library Centre features a room (as pictured above) of about 40′ x 30′ that is able to accommodate about 50 musicians, well under the numbers used in some of the repertoire the orchestra has planned for this season. Over the years we have received requests from excellent musicians to join the KSO that we were reluctantly unable to accept for no other reason than the space limitations.  Also, we could not rehearse in the space with a pianist or with a choir, for the same reasons.  To deal with this, we had to rent ad hoc spaces outside Markham for those rehearsal.    In short, our rehearsal hall was limiting the growth of the orchestra.  In addition to the space challenges, the small space had negative acoustic properties, related to both size and hard surfaces, having never been designed for music.  The musicians could not hear well each other and that made rehearsals very  demanding and difficult.

We have not been alone in confronting this problem but have been working with our friends and colleagues in Markham.  Maestro Alexander has been busy working with the City of Markham, the General Committee, and the Mayor, Mr. Frank Scarpitti, on the providing the KSO with a better rehearsal hall.  Our colleagues, the Markham Concert Band had similar rehearsal space related issues and in 2009 , they were able to convince the City to build a dedicated rehearsal hall in the newly constructed Cornell Community Centre.
State of the art rehearsal space at the Cornell Community Centre

State of the art rehearsal space at the Cornell Community Centre

This hall (pictured above)  is a 5,000 sq ft, state-of-the-art facility, entirely covered with maple wood, built-in projection screen, surround sound audio system, WiFi, digital recording studio, music library, plus a leading edge dynamic acoustic system.  This system allows adjustment of sound reflecting disks and panels  depending on the type of music played or the size of the orchestra/ensemble.  The hall also can be used as a small recital hall being outfitted with 200 retractable seats. The acoustic is just phenomenal! In addition, the rehearsal hall has 2 smaller size studios adjacent to it which will be used for sectional rehearsals. It also has catering facilities, coat check and large storage facilities.  It is all we could ask for in a home.
The biggest advantage of moving into the hall is the possibility to continue growing the KSO members and reach a full size orchestra (around 95-100 musicians) that will comfortably provide us with the forces to approach late romantic and contemporary repertoire requiring large orchestra.   In addition, musicians can hear each other much better which means less wasted time in rehearsal and ultimately an improvement in the overall sound of the orchestra. We have recently  received a small capital grant from Trillium ear-marked for the purchase of a Steinway small grant piano which we will used and stored in the hall.  In addition the grant allows for the purchase of he latest ergonomic  musicians chairs , risers, music library shelves,  and a colour photocopier. The dedicated music library will allow us to properly store our growing collection of music parts and scores and have immediate access to them.
Some of our loyal supporters might be worried that as good as the new space sounds, it will be too expensive for our small budget.  More good news!  The City of Markham recognized the KSO as a major cultural institution in Markham and offered all of this for a cost below our former rates.   We are so lucky to be in a community that values cultural assets!
Supervising the move: Carol Walsh, KSO Board Member and Jobert Sevilleno, General Manager

Supervising the move: Carol Walsh, KSO Board Member and Jobert Sevilleno, General Manager

On December 16, the day after our sold-out Messiah, instead of resting after that wonderful concert, we were hard at work moving the KSO equipment from the Old Unionille Library to Cornell Recital Hall.  The following day, on December 17 we were able to welcome our musicians to their new home and enjoy the space for our first rehearsal.
Dec 17, 2012, KSO's first rehearsal at the Cornell Recital Hall

Dec 17, 2012, KSO’s first rehearsal at the Cornell Recital Hall

Notice to all GTA musicians.
Kindred Spirits Orchestra rehearses every Tuesday from 7:15 pm to 10:00 pm and is accepting applications from new members for all instruments.  Simply use the handy form below to indicate your interest.

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Masterclass at Unionville High School with Claudia Lemcke, mezzo-soprano

Claudia Lemcke works with members of the choral program at Unionville High School

Claudia Lemcke works with members of the choral program at Unionville High School

During rehearsals for Kindred Spirits Orchestra’s performance of the Messiah (December 15, 2012) Mezzo-soprano soloist, Claudia Lemcke was able to devote some time to the orchestra’s vibrant musical education outreach program.  Arranged by the orchestra, Claudia led a Masterclass with selected students in the school’s Arts Unionville Choral Program taught by Sarah Fabro.

Kindred Spirit News and Views spoke to Jeff Wrigglesworth, Head of Music at Unionville High School.  He shared that the school has a music magnet program that draws students from across Markham and Stouffville with a special interest in music.  Music students at Unionville HS are able to participate in a band program, orchestra program, choral program and/or piano program.  In addition to music offered as an arts option, Unionville Highschool is the home of the Arts Unionville program, a program offering 8  specialized courses for talented students in drama, dance, visual arts and music.  Students are selected on the basis of application and audition.  Participants in the masterclass were chosen from the choral class of the Arts Unionville program–all highly achieving and motivated choral students.

Claudia Lemcke works with one of the Masterclass participants.

Claudia Lemcke works with one of the masterclass participants.

In such a busy music program, it’s hard for teachers to make time for special events like this masterclass.  KSO News and Views asked “What do professional artists contribute to the music program through presentations and masterclasses?”

“Students considering careers in the Arts are able to gain insights, not only into their art form, but also into the lives of professional artists, and valuable tips on further education and career planning.” Jeff Wrigglesworth also noted that, “Partnering with a community orchestra like KSO also is an encouragement to students who love music but are planning careers in other fields.  They are able to see that there are opportunities to play at a very high level, use the talents they are developing  and contribute to the community’s cultural life without being a professional musician.  It’s good for students to know that there are options, that they can still play even if they do not make the Toronto Symphony. ” He also noted that teachers understood that it is part of the mandate of arts organization to contribute to educational outreach as a condition of some funding programs, so this was a two-way partnership and the school was very happy to be able to partner with arts organizations wherever and whenever possible, mentioning that sometimes a fit could not be found due to the school schedule.  Another way that Unionville HS has partnered with KSO in the past was offering student jazz ensembles the opportunity of playing at orchestra receptions and special events.

Claudia Lemcke reviews the musical selection of one Masterclass participant.

Claudia Lemcke reviews the musical selection of one masterclass participant.

Vocal teacher Sarah Fabro was pleased that the masterclass reinforced the solid technique that students were learning in her program, as well as being individually guided.  Both participating students and members of the class observing were energized by this session.

KSO will be keeping in regular touch with the school to develop our next educational outreach session at Unionville HS.

Unionville student listens carefully to suggestions.

Unionville student listens carefully to suggestions.

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Pre-concert Talk: December 15 Handel’s Glorious Messiah, re-orchestrated by Mozart

Arrive early, learn more, add to your enjoyment of the concert!

​Pre-concert conversations are a staple of all KSO Concerts.  This month be sure to arrive prior to 6:45 pm in order to not  miss the informative talk that will be given this concert by KSO Principal Clarinet, Carmen Gassi.

Dec 15 Pre-concert chat presenterCarmen Gassi, principal clarinet

Dec 15 Pre-concert chat presenter
Carmen Gassi, principal clarinet

Carmen Gassi has earned a Master of Music in Clarinet performance degree, a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition, and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Western Ontario. He has studied with Jerome Summers, Robert Riseling, and Imre Roszanyi. Mr. Gassi has performed with the Brampton Symphony Orchestra, Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, Oakville Symphony Orchestra, Brampton Lyric Opera, Opera Kitchener, Meadowvale Theatre, and others. An accomplished composer, Mr. Gassi wrote Diversions for Woodwind Quintet and The Last Tournament for a Brass Quintet (both published by Eighth Note). He has also been conductor of the Halton Senior Winds Honour Band, assistant conductor of Brampton Symphony Orchestra and Brampton Youth Orchestra, and Head of Arts & Moderns at the Halton District School Board.

The Remix, it’s not a new idea.

While today’s pop music scene might have legitimized the remix, the idea of altering a timeless masterpiece like Handel’s Messiah startles our sensibilities, but why?  In Mozart’s day, the Messiah was 50 years old and while still a classic seemed to need a bit of dusting off. During this talk, Mr. Gassi will take listeners back in time to understand the historical and musical thinking behind the Mozart arrangement.

Mr. Gassi will be examining the following topics during his 30 minute presentation in the lobby of the Flato Markham Theatre.

  •  What were the motivations behind Mozart re-orchestrating Handel’s Messiah 50 years after Handel composed the work ?
  • Who was the work’s commissioner, Baron von Swieten?
  • What were the nature of  the changes that Mozart made?
  •  What to listen for in the performance:  what do these changes sound like? Through recorded excerpts listeners will be guided to key passages, enhancing their musical enjoyment and knowledgeable listening.

Rebecca Whelan (soprano), Claudia Lemcke (mezzo-soprano), Stephan Harland (tenor) and Andrew Tees (baritone) will join Village Voices and the Kindred Spirits Orchestra on December 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Flato Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be booked at 905.305.7469 or online at

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Introducing KSO Concert host, Alexa Petrenko

2012 KSO Gala © Anil Mungal

Impressed with the partnership that KSO has forged with Classical 96.3 Radio and particularly with radio personality Alexa Petrenko, we asked Maestro Kristian Alexander to comment on the partnership.

“The KSO was created with a strong educational mission in mind. We brought with this the understanding that the modern audience (especially the young audience) is sophisticated, serious, intelligent, and thirsty for information. Of course, we have printed programme notes ( that are also available on the KSO website, as long as 18 months in advance ) that are distributed in print prior to each concert. However, we know that many members  of the audience are unable to read them in advance, either because they do not have time before the concert, or the darkness of the theatre between pieces makes it impractical . So,  we made the intuitive leap that providing contextual notes prior to each composition via a live person from the stage would be appreciated by the audience. Our audience has told us that the presence of a host also  makes people more comfortable, feel more invited, less intimidated.  A bonus for the orchestra is that it  gives an opportunity to deliver brief special messages in more personable way (thanking sponsors, promoting subscriptions, donations, reminding the audience of the next concert).”

“Finding the right person was not an easy task.”  It was in fact a tall order. “We were looking for someone knowledgeable and well educated in the classical music field but also someone who was smart and funny, with a pleasant, charismatic personality, and well known throughout the GTA community. I met Alexa at a dinner I gave many years ago for a friend of mine – Benjamin Zander, Music Director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who came to Toronto to conduct and present his book ‘The Art of Possibility’. Alexa, a popular classical radio host,  was the perfect fit for the role we are looking for and we were fortunate enough that she accepted our proposal. So we gave it a try (first as an experiment) beginning with the very first KSO concert in 2009.   The results were unambiguous:  People loved it!  And they still do.  Alexa is now definitely a member of the KSO family.  So this became a standard part of the KSO concert format–one that is integral to the distinctive feeling of our events. ”

Our standard concert policy is to involve as much educational content as possible, by building on the foundation of rehearsals and concert. We routinely present a masterclass in a local school with our guest soloist(s) who is in residence with us during the rehearsal period.  This brings Markham area music students into contact with top professional musicians that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to hear and learn from.

Prior to the concert, audience members are invited to join us in the foyer for a pre-concert.  Another educational opportunity is offered to the audience in the form of an intermission discussion.  Finally, we offer the audience a post-concert complimentary glass of Champagne with live jazz in the foyer, to encourage them to stay for awhile and give us the opportunity to hear their thoughts and answer their questions.

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